Could the six leopard cubs that reached Indore zoo in the last 48 hours have been orphaned by poachers? Or, by a tug-of-war for land between wild animals and villagers? Experts don't discount the possibility.
Six leopard cubs - one caught in Dhar and five in Dewas - were sent to Indore zoo by the forest department during the last two days. The cubs from Dewas are barely 2-3 days old and weigh around 50 grams apiece while the solitary cub from Dhar is a little older.
"Since most of the cubs are so young and were found alone it could mean that the leopardess is dead," said a veterinarian. He refused to speculate on whether the cubs' mother was killed by poachers or villagers. Forest department officials, however, said that there was a possibility that the leopardess was not only alive but actively searching for her cubs.
"A leopardess' call was heard at around 1-2 am (on the intervening night of Monday and Tuesday). Pugmarks have also been found at a lake near the village (Ghachlay) from where the cubs were picked up," said divisional forest officer, Dewas, Vibhash Thakur. "We'll wait for a day to see how things go. If the leopardess creates a ruckus then it means the villagers probably picked up the cubs while she was away. If she remains quiet then it means that she abandoned them," added Thakur.
Insiders say the possibility of a poaching death cannot be ruled out as both places where the leopard cubs were picked up from were close to forested areas. Tanda (Dhar) from where a solitary cub was picked up by a person who claimed to have mistaken it for a kitten, adjoins the Chintiya jungle - a fact confirmed by chief conservator of forests (Indore) PC Dubey.
Gheechlay village, from where the five cubs were picked up, also lies close to a jungle, said Thakur. Both officials, however, are at pains to discount the possibility of the leopardess having fallen prey to poachers. "We've toured the area, spoken to villagers and also made inquiries with the police and other sources. But there have been no reports (of poaching)", said Dubey.
Meanwhile, how are the cubs doing? Veterinarian and Indore zoo incharge Dr Uttam Yadav said the cubs were being fed on a diet of special milk meant to boost the immune system.